Sergio Perez has said he is “happy” to have helped Max Verstappen defeat Sir Lewis Hamilton in the 2021 F1 World Championship by holding the Brit up in Sunday’s season finale.
Hamilton cleared Verstappen at the start of the race on medium tyres, running away from the Dutchman in the opening stages. The Red Bull driver then pitted for an undercut, with Perez going long.
20 laps into the race, with Hamilton streaking clear of his title rival, Perez was charged with backing Hamilton up into Verstappen to help the 24-year-old regain the time he had lost in the first stint.
He battled Hamilton hard, costing the seven-time champion buckets of time before the Mexican’s stop.
“Obviously, I was in a position where I had not much to lose,” said Perez.
“It’s not a place that you want to be in but at the same time I will always put my team above anything.”
Perez conceded that his tyres were worn by the time Hamilton caught him, but highlighted the importance of fighting hard for his Red Bull team.
“It was a gamble because at that point you are just a piece of cake basically when you are after 18, 19 laps on the soft tyres and Lewis was on fresh rubber. Getting him back out of Turn 6 was the key to it.
“I’m just happy that it worked out because I could have cost him half a second at the time, but I’m just happy that I cost him a bit longer.”
Perez stated that he was aware of the situation at that point in the race and was under no illusions as to the size of the task in front of him.
“It was crucial at that time of the race, because I knew that basically, Lewis had the race under control, he had the Virtual and Safety Car windows pretty much open and he could have done whatever he wanted at the time.”
While Perez was delighted that he aided his team-mate’s success, the Mexican empathises with Hamilton.
“At the end of the day, I’m happy that I’ve helped Max and the team.
“It’s a hard one because at the same time, you don’t want to interfere too much in the Drivers’ Championship. But I think above anything, it will always be my team.”
As for his late retirement from the grand prix, Perez affirmed that stopping in the pits meant that there was no risk of him stopping on track and causing another Safety Car – which could have cost Verstappen the title.
“I didn’t know anything at the time but obviously, the engine was on the limit,” Perez added.
Verstappen thanked Perez during the race for holding up Hamilton and described him as a “legend”.